'Slap in the face': Jury awards four cents to family of Black man killed by deputy in Florida
Fri., June 1, 2018
Jurors who awarded only 4 cents to the family of a Black man fatally shot in his home by a deputy expressed confusion about the courtâs instructions as they struggled to reach a verdict.
Notes sent to the judge show the jurors said they couldnât reach a unanimous decision before finally finding 30-year-old Gregory Hill Jr. 99 per cent responsible for his death, because he was drunk when a St. Lucie County Sheriffâs deputy shot him.
Hillâs fiancÃ©e called the verdict a âslap in the face,â and the familyâs lawyer is preparing an appeal, saying he canât tell whether the jury was angry, or just confused.
Hill was in his garage in the South Florida city of Fort Pierce, listening to loud music when a parent picking a child up from an elementary school across the street called in the complaint in 2014.
According to court documents, deputies responded and Hill eventually raised his garage door to answer them, then lowered it again. A deputy then fired through the door, hitting Hill three times. Deputies testified that they saw Hil l holding a weapon. An unloaded gun was found in the dead manâs back pocket.Article Continued Below
The sheriffâs office called in a SWAT team, who tear-gassed the home before officers went in and found Hillâs body.
A sheriffâs statement said Deputy Christopher Newman, who fired the fatal shots, was âplaced in a very difficult situation, and like so many fellow law enforcement officers must do every day, he made the best decision he could for the safety of his partner, himself, and the public given the circumstances he faced.â
A grand jury in Florida brought no charges, so Hillâs family turned to federal court, filing a civil rights lawsuit against Newman and his department.
Attorney John Phillips said the jurors â" one Black man, two white men and five white women â" seemed receptive to the familyâs case during the trial, but confused by the instructions the judge gave for their deliberations last week.
âThe jury smiled, cried and s howed anger during the trial. They were normal, reactive people and seemed to understand both sides of the case,â Phillips said.
There were two claims the jury had to decide: a federal civil rights claim, and a state-law claim of negligence. Phillips suggested that the wording of the instructions may have confused the jurors.
The instructions said they could award $1 in ânominal damagesâ to the family if Hillâs injuries werenât clearly the result of unjustifiable force. But that part of the instruction was supposed to apply only to the federal civil rights claim, which the jury decided entirely in the deputyâs favour. On the state-law claim, they decided â" in a very small way â" in favour of the family by finding the sheriffâs department 1 per cent negligent.Article Continued Below
Hours before the verdict, the jury sent the judge a note with a question: âIf we find minimal negligence, can the courts overrule monetary amounts presented by the jur y?â
The judge replied that she did not understand, and asked them to clarify. They never did.
At another point, they said they were struggling to reach a unanimous decision. The judge told them to keep trying.
Finally, the jury awarded Hillâs relatives $1 for funeral expenses and $1 for each of Hillâs three children. That $4 was then reduced to 4 cents â" or 1 per cent, representing the sheriffâs liability. The other 99 per cent was blamed on the dead man, under a Florida law that enables such decisions if a victim was under the influence of alcohol.
Hillâs fiancÃ©e, Monique Davis said she had to leave the courtroom during the verdict so she wouldnât have an outburst.
âIt was basically a slap in the face. You value someoneâs life as one dollar?â
Phillips said heâs baffled. Heâs planning to ask for a new trial, and to file an appeal if thatâs denied.
âA finding of no negligence and no civil rights violations is one thing, but the series of one-dollar awards for these kids was shocking, upsetting and confusing.â
University of Miami law professor Osamudia James says the option of nominal damages is given to juries as a way to acknowledge a wrong, even if they donât believe large damages are warranted. Itâs one tool juries are given to facilitate the difficult process of assigning monetary awards for injuries.
âIn cases like this with nominal awards, juries are saying âWe donât like what happened, but weâre not awarding a lot (of money) to it,ââ James said.
Hill and Davis were high school sweethearts, engaged to be married. He had two kids with Davis and a third with another woman.
Davis called him a family man who loved working and fishing, and always provided for his children.
âHe wasnât running the streets doing bad things,â she said. âHe was not perfect but he wasnât a bad guy.âTOP STORIES, DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX.NEW NEWSLETTERH EADLINESSIGN UPSource: Google News